164 Comments

All in all it’s just another BRIC in the wall.

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BRICS: The new ASEAN

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I disagree with that comparison. ASEAN is much more a "thing" than BRICS is. They are actually seeking to become something of an organisation like the EU (sans the common currency). And they already have much tighter trade and political links.

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Aug 27, 2023Liked by Noah Smith

Angry upvote from me

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Aug 27, 2023Liked by Noah Smith

As an Indian, I fully agree with this. The whole purpose of India being in these organizations is to prevent Chinese domination in these groups. India knows this isn't going anywhere but preventing possible risks is probably the reason for India to be in this.

I don't think the dollar is going away anytime soon.

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Like the British strategy re. Europe - muck things up to make sure nothing much happens. Worked pretty well, but Brexit probably ends that.

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That’s incredibly wise

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So, if we see an organization by China that is wise enough to plainly say "no" to India, we are to start to worry?)

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Aug 27, 2023Liked by Noah Smith

The real winner from all this BRICS discourse is Narendra Modi. He gets to present himself domestically as making big-money moves to keep India independent and non-aligned. At the same time, joining these organisations allows him to throw sand in the gears of anything that could be a China-led alternative to the status quo. The whole South-South cooperation schtick, and maybe a fear of India moving closer to the west, means China can’t say no to this.

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I was looking into the Ethiopia numbers, and I noticed that Kenya and Uganda also seem to have strong GDP growth. I'd be really interested in a deep dive of East Africa, and if it's doing as well as it seems to be.

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Aug 27, 2023Liked by Noah Smith

I was going to write this, but I went cycling instead. Procrastination succeeds again.

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author

Were you going to title it "BRICS is fake" too? Because if so that's awesome!

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Aug 27, 2023Liked by Noah Smith

I hadn't got to the title, but I've always liked "paper tiger" in this context. Like Lenin, Mao was an awful person, but both had a gift for "le mot juste".

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I like another BRIC in the wall ;-)

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In your collective opinion, are whistleblowers spies?

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Aug 27, 2023Liked by Noah Smith

In particular, I was going to make the point about SE Asia

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I agree. I was traveling in Ghana(Ashanti Kingdom), remaining for three weeks. While there is fiat currency flowing throughout the continent of Africa until no one is willing to deal in anything but U.S. Dollar. Traveled in Europe, Southeast Asia, Africa, and as far as I could go underground to North Korean Border. 100% OF EVERYWHERE I HAVE TRAVELED U.S. DOLLOR IS THE ACE CURRENCY. ALL THE TALK ABOUT THE GLOBAL ECONOMY, is inaccurate.

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I believe it's important to understand the pros and cons, not to getting a one sided argument, I'm not an expert in writing but, it's important we get to understand both sides of the story, for instance if BRICs started off 22 years ago and now we see other countries wanting to join, what do those nations see that is not portrayed in this article full of facts on why they can't work?

I would appreciate if we get to see what progress these nations actually see, to join the bloc.

The West too should have their eyes open to why such groupings are happening, to be accountable for changing what needs to be changed, so as to create great alliances.

Not an expert, just an entrepreneur from Africa

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Since the United States and Europe created the financial system that currently dominates the world, other countries wish they could play similarly leading role. They keep forming these organizations to make a performative gesture at building a parallel non-western system. Louis XIV built Versailles, and then 100 other princes built tiny Versailles in the following century. Everybody knew it was pathetic, but it was better than admitting they had been left at the post.

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Aug 27, 2023Liked by Noah Smith

My similar take when hearing about this; A group of characters, at least some of whom suffer from megalomania, that are 'meeting happy' and think a chat will make a difference but nothing really changes except they get some press and maybe that is the real point - a vague type of economic sabre-rattling.

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Your description reminds me of the Conference of the Parties.

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Aug 27, 2023Liked by Noah Smith

Would you be able to do a deep dive compare & contrast to China's internal debt problems right now vs the '08 Financial Crisis. My working level understanding is the major difference lies in how the debt is collateralized, but I'd love to hear from a pro at economics

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I definitely want to do this, but I'm trying to resist writing too many China posts! Maybe in a week?

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The China posts are my favourite posts!

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Aug 27, 2023Liked by Noah Smith

Whenever. I'm just trying to understand it left of crisis point. I don't trust the CCP to act rationally when the crisis hits

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I'll write that post. The short version is that it's pretty similar, except China has a bunch of additional problems we didn't, like local government financing, the inability to elect new leaders, and an aversion to fiscal stimulus.

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Aug 27, 2023Liked by Noah Smith

Which is what I've been thinking! But I'm glad to hear I'm not entirely hallucinating this jonbar hinge

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What "new leaders" are you electing? It looks to me that they/the candidates are slowly targeting the image of President Camacho from Idiocracy...

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"India and Brazil value democracy very highly," Do they? Both countries have struggled with regimes with autocratic tendencies recently. I am not saying there are no institutions in those countries that support democracy - after all they have managed to resist autocratic takeover - but I don't think it's accurate to characterize either's geopolitical strategy as being defined against autocracy or for promotion of democracy. More like, they aren't monolithically anti-West because the West accepts them as democracies.

The tensions between India and China are very real, but the conflict is not over form of government. After all, India and Pakistan have a long-standing rival and Pakistan is certainly more democratic than China.

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America is jailing in the most likely challenger to the current president. Americans should avoid lectures on democracy for a while.

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1. You’re just assuming Jeff is American

2. Trump isn’t in jail lol. He’s been charged. In any event voters can still vote for him

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Go back to X, troll.

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Aug 27, 2023·edited Aug 27, 2023

Well I am an American but I don't think also having authoritarian moments in its democracy really detracts from my point (I would put it as Trump tried to do a coup, but whatever).

America tells a story about itself in which it values democracy and has the mission of promoting democracy globally. But does it? Many times in our Cold War history we sided with the more business-friendly regime than the more democratic regime, and our foreign policy still contains many contradictions along these lines.

The best they can be said for US as a global promoter of democracy is that sometimes it believes democracies will be natural allies and sometimes it a politician's foreign policy reflects a voter's idealism about global democracy. But we should view this as small idealistic deviations from the usual pattern of geopolitical realpolitik (in which we are much like everyone else).

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The basic driving forces behind BRICS are real - desire to mitigate American hegemony over global affairs, seen most recently in its weaponizing the USD against Russia. Also, BRICS nations have common interests in other economic areas - for e.g. forcing the developed world to acknowledge and pay up for its disproportionate contribution to historical emissions. I believe other arguments (like trying for a military alliance or caring about promotion of democracy) are all nonsense.

Also, proof of the pudding is in the eating. If 15-20 countries from various contients are desirous of joining BRICS, clearly they see something aspirational in what it could stand for and achieve.

It is here that BRICS and SCO have run up against the problem that China is doing its very best to be as obnoxious as the US. So your argument that India (for example) wants to be in some of these groupings just to sabotage Chinese domination, has some truth to it. But can the larger purpose of BRICS given above still be a strong glue to hold the countries together and get stuff done? I would think yes. On one hand, it forces China to dial down its border rhetoric (except in Taiwan). On the other, it enables smaller powers like RSA, Argentina and Ethiopia to make their voice heard and find support.

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Let's put it that way: you are not very accurate but you are entitled to your opinion. Don't underestimate how fed up the world is with the US dictating the terms and rules of engagement with its extra territorial law, reach of the USD Etc

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Even if those things were real, which they're not really, there is simply no way in which BRICS could alter any of that.

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Extraterritoriality of US law is a figment of my imagination? The fact that the US has jurisdiction over any company dealing with any country it has decided to ban is also something I imagined? The list can be long. Ultimately, the Brics represent enough of the world's gdp to form a meaningful economic alliance which will reive the wirght of the USD in global trade... You should really try to see things with less of an American perspective. Really.

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Wait, your claiming the PRC respects countries sovereignty? The same people who have been setting up undercover police stations in Canada and blackbagging random foreign nationals who happen to be ethnically Chinese?

On an unrelated note I have some ape themed NFTs to sell you, it's an amazing investment opportunity.

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You should restrain from trying to sound smart with your NFTs, it falls flat.

Lots vs be said about the US being the biggest bully in town. I don't care what the Chinese do.

I want to see a more balanced world and less of the US meddling in Europe, Latin America and the rest of the world

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Sorry you're right, I forgot you're rage posting from LATAM, and subtly isn't going to work here.

I was implying that you were so stupid you would actually purchase an NFT. Because Ape based non-fungible tokens are one of the few things as insubstantial and worthless as BRICS.

To the substance of your comment, while you "don't care what the Chinese do", India very much does, as do the other countries in South East Asia. See all the recent military agreements they have been signing with the USA, or the fact they are literally fighting with melee weapons on their disputed border.

And without either India, or some other anchor tennant's from Asia, this "economic alliance" is just China, and some of the biggest economic basket cases in recorded history.

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Aug 27, 2023·edited Aug 27, 2023

You don't like to hear the rest of the world doesn't really like the US and it's failed model? Sorry snowflake...

By the way, don't try to guess either. I am not in LATAM. you are just not very good as a commentator. You should stick to what you do best and leave the rest of us, the people with a working brain, alone I suppose. Bye pal.

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So did a lot of people in Europe, Southeast Asian, etc. Until they alternative was Russian and Chinese meddling. All of a sudden US meddling looked pretty good by comparison. The old saying be careful what you ask for come to mind.

Really, the US could just back out...Not sure if this is a good idea as the Europeans trashed the world when they ran it and to the Chinese couldn't make it out of the first island chain without turning every one of their neighbors against them (except the good old North Koreans but with friends like them who needs enemies).

Still, I suppose the US could go back to isolationism and see how it works out for the planet. Everyone one would be poor for it but if the US cut its defense budget to the level of Germany it would have a lot of money left over for healthcare and education...

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Let’s try thinking about BRICS as a group that publivly does not accept weaponization of the dollar. Most are suffering US sanctions and are trying to devise a “safe” space to trade and grow outside US rules based order. One of the

BRICS results is US giving up on secondary sanctions.

India will be beneficiary, becoming leader of countries of South East Asia and Western Africa that very politely refuse to play according to US rules based order.

In a positive scenario BRICS will help wean US from addiction to sanctions.

In a negative, US will succeed in dominating India by fomenting a China India war.

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Sanctions don’t happen on a whim but usually result from bad behaviors like invading your neighbors, egregious human rights violations, etc. If most BRICS members are sanctioned (which they are not) then it tells you something about the collective character of the group. Any successful financial organization requires a firm foundation of rules-based order. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” is not a very stable framework for cooperation.

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Unilateral, US Sanctions are a form of aggression. They show unequivocally US is very powerful entity able to impose sanctions. And that sanctioned are disliked by US.

Sanctioning everyone who produces oil is a bit contradictory. In order for sanctions against Russia to be effective US has had to pause from sanctioning Venezuela and Iran, albeit temporarily. Limit for US sanctions is US strategic inventiveness or lack of it.

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I used to hear from the Online Left that we should stick with sanctions and not escalate to military action; now that's too aggressive. I'm starting to believe that their motives are not so pure.

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U.S. sanctions are counter-aggressions in retaliation to other's aggressions. Nobody is being sanctioned because they simply produce oil but for notable transgressions against international norms. Venezuela and Iran are still under heavy sanctions for obvious reasons. I have no idea of what you're trying to convey.

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When discussing US unilateral sanctions one should try to keep in mind the global strategic situation. If US cannot sanction everyone it will have to limit itself to sanctioning only some of the percieved offenders of the rules based order. Who is it going to be? How is US going to choose? Is Kashoggi disappearance in a Saudi embassy worse than a leftist winning an election in Latin America than an African country refusing to serve as US drone base worse than a former Soviet Union country refusing NATO on its border worse than a second in power global economy achieving technological breaktrough in semiconductor technology worse than major European economy bypassing US gas and arranging for cheap and abundant gas ?

And while US is pondering these difficult imperial decisions, global community is arranging BRICS formerly known as acronim association only into dollar deweaponization association.

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Who was Venezuela agressing, or Syria, or Iran, or Cuba? The concept of private property and its ability to abuse respective countries' natural resources?

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Who did Serbia invaded in 1999, or Libya, or Afghanistan, or Syria, or Iraq in 2003? I haven't seen any sanctions and criminal indictments on the US, have you? Have you seen pictures with Abu Gharib or Guantanamo, or all the weddings and funerals blasted to bits by Reaper missiles?

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Now THAT is an illustrious list of countries! Serbia 1999, Libya, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq pre-2003. Nothing to see wrong and sanctions-worthy in any of those countries!

Look, I don't think sanctions work, and would like to get rid of a lot of them and use them extremely rarely in the future. But you are being willfully ignorant if you don't understand why many people demanded sanctions on these countries at various times in the past.

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There is an internationally agreed mechanism for applying sanctions. Those countries, or Cuba for that matter, or Venezuela, were sanctioned outside the international consensus.

But please, enjoy the "rules based order":

The rules based-order

The USA rules the world.

The USA makes all rules including these rules.

No one can know what the rules are, only that they exist.

No one is allowed to ask what the rules are.

The USA will be in charge of the flexibility provided by the rules’ non-existent nature.

Non-western countries must be regularly castigated for not following the rules.

Western countries must be regularly praised for following the rules.

Alternative rules of governance which work successfully (cf. China, Singapore) must always be derided as “authoritarianism”.

Unfair global dominance by the 13% western minority (cf. totalitarianism) must always be referred to as “democracy”.

These rules over-ride all other rules, including fundamental justice and the laws of nature.

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I can assure you that bad behaviors happened before any of those invasions. I am unclear about your point. Yes, the U.S. is fully capable of committing mistakes. Sanctions only work if they are supported by a majority of nations. “If you don’t want to do the time, don’t do the crime.”

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I would not call them mistakes. These were full blown intentional actions, taken after great calculations.

Here is the take of a former director on Russian Analysis at CIA, serving Dick Cheney:

“The choice that we faced in Ukraine — and I'm using the past tense there intentionally — was whether Russia exercised a veto over NATO involvement in Ukraine on the negotiating table or on the battlefield,” said George Beebe, a former director of Russia analysis at the CIA and special adviser on Russia to former Vice President Dick Cheney. “And we elected to make sure that the veto was exercised on the battlefield, hoping that either Putin would stay his hand or that the military operation would fail.”

https://www.msnbc.com/opinion/msnbc-opinion/russia-s-ukraine-invasion-may-have-been-preventable-n1290831

So no, they are not mistakes, same way US bombing the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999 was not a mistake.

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Noah likely thinks that Ukrianian entrprising individuals blew up Nord Stream 1 and 2, eh?

Could you have some graphs with the PRODUCTIVE capacity of BRICS+ compared with the west? As well as the availability of natural resources, compared with the west? I heard that Germany is really shrinking... And that the US cannot produce enough 155 mm shels in a month to support Ukraine monthly needs...

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Many things wrong about this comment but most fundamentally - even assuming "the world" were indeed fed up with US hegemony, why exactly would they be interested in replacing it with Chinese hegemony?

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Aug 27, 2023·edited Aug 27, 2023

That's the thing, the BRICS are not swapping an hegemony for another. They just don't want foreign interference. Ask any Latin American country how they feel about the US. The US is the only country which is perpetually in a state of conflict/war and maintains a large fleet ready to pounce. The US is the only country on the planet which has blockaded countries, invaded and then tried to rule the place. Guess what, people noticed and want to rebalance how things are done. The US has proven that it can pull the plug on companies and entire countries if they don't behave as Washington expects. And the world is fed us with subsidizing the US and Europe, which are giving lectures to the developing nations, when they are running massive deficits and cannot run their countries properly. It is a good thing the BRICS exist and it will take time but ultimately it will put more power in the hands of those who actually produce energy, good and everything we need. Not the country that outsources the production of Iphones.

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Well said Alex! Indeed, the basic fallacy in the original post is to assume that the only way to weaken one hegemony is to replace it with another

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“The US is the only country which is perpetually in a state of conflict/war and maintains a large fleet ready to pounce.”—I’m pretty sure Ukraine would strongly disagree with this statement.

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It's doubtful that power will track low-value add production, but keep on dreaming!

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But at least outsourcing manufacturing has resulted in economic growth in these other countries--seems good for them? The funny thing is basically you're big argument--which may be correct, but still seems morally nefarious--is that middle-income countries around the world are freaking out that they may face consequences from G7 countries if they, say, invade their neighbors or commit other gross human rights violations, and so they need an organization like BRICS to get around that. A clear win for humanity!

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Let's put it that way: you are not very accurate but you are entitled to your opinion.

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Thanks 😉

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You seem upset that the BRICS countries do far more trade with the US than with each other, and that in doing so they settle in US dollars. Therefore any analysis must raise arguments in this context. This is reality. Is this the US bias you refer to?

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I am not upset. But I think the BRICS can spell disaster for the US as developing countries will trade more between themselves and have an alternative to the USD. Just look at how the western sanctions did nothing to remove Putin from power and stop the conflict in Ukraine.

The BRICS have the potential to erode the US ability to see who does what as exchanges will be settled outside of SWIFT, lower the USD weaponization RISK, reeucee exposure to extra territoriality of US law etc. Many countries want "a fair deal", not a "we do what the US tells us to do or else...".

The relevance of the US as "THE" world power is in question and it is a good thing.

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I would think the risk is overblown. BRICS has very little to trade others than agricultural and natural resources. Only China and Russian have true value-added goods than are not obtainable elsewhere. US and Europe have lots of value added goods as well as internationally acclaimed media which the entire globe have a demand for. Hence the global trade imbalance is far from accurate to account for what the US offers the world.

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BRICS countries trade more with the U.S. and EU than they do with each other. Sounds like they're biting the hands that feed them.

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Yes--making it easier for countries to invade their neighbors with impunity is a good thing! Big win for humanity!

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Increased trade for lower-income countries is a great thing. I don’t think the US is the obstacle to that increase, however. And I doubt dislodging the USD will be helpful to that first objective, rather than acting primarily as a tool of China to weaken the US for its own gain.

All if this said, I took Noah’s analysis to be about probabilities, not whether the probabilities of one thing over another is good or bad. Though I’d love to read a thoughtful analysis along that line.

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Times are changing. Trade being done between BRICS without actual use of dollars has already started.

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Indeed. I’m just not seeing that intra-BRICS trade is a disaster for the US. The pie is not fixed.

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Irony, historical paradox is that BRICS is really good for US, good for US citizens, workers, businesses. US doesn’t need to be world’s policeman. US cannot take casualties that modern serious war demands. AI is still not able to completely take all human roles in a war. Manipulating strings necessary to start, fund, organize proxy wars is eating US society from inside. Bad.

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It is about control and ability to destroy. US will have diminished control and abilities for doing harm. I.e. blowing up Power of Siberia for instance...

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Aug 27, 2023Liked by Noah Smith

Living for this Noah slap down of BRICS.

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Interesting analysis Noah.

I think however the driving factor behind BRICS is not necessarily an explicit anti-Americanism or pro-China attitude but rather an attempt to grow agency.

For most countries, the rules based international order has been a tremendous boon but it also has been a failed promise. Most international institutions which are supposed to be the custodians of this order are dominated by Western nations. At the very least they end up being funded and heavily pressured by the West.

Institutions such as the SCO or BRICS are attempts to build a parallel architecture that gives other, non-Western countries a fairer say in international affairs.

I doubt BRICS will be successful but it does represent the promise of an international order less dominated by the West. I think that is why it has drawn such publicity.

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Chinese GDP is approx 5-6 times that of India and India is close to 2x GDP of Brazil and Russia, South Africa is very small so roughly China would be 80% of total brics GDP, which is way higher domination than the USA has in most multilateral institutions.

The institutions where the USA dominates were basically started post WW2 when The USA was seen as a more benevolent country(given the Roosevelt doctrine and how they helped rebuild Japan and Germany as contrasted to how the Allies behaved post WW1) so countries were far more willing to accept USA influence /domination as a positive factor. USA behavior has definitely changed over the years and there have been multiple cases (Iraq/Chile /Iran in the 50s) where it has caused long term damage to those countries (though in my opinion been more a force for good than otherwise). If the current world multilateral order were to be rebuilt today there would be greater pushback to USA dominance in say the IMF, but those institutions are already there and are broadly globally accepted over the last 7 decades.

Brics by contrast doesn't have that heritage and nobody in their right mind would believe in Chinese benevolence or that Chinese domination will be long term beneficial for them. China under Xi has burned bridges with every major power and even the countries that are sort of dependent on them due to Chinese loans don't have much affection for them.

Also the USSR and China have a past history of conflict, most people forget the main reason for Mao coming to an arrangement with Reagan was that China feared USSR after their border clashes in 1969-70 and they needed the USA to balance that. China and Russia may be allies today due to political expediency but there is little trust between them. India as Noah has pointed out is pretty much there to make sure nothing contrary to their interest happens. There is no chemistry between any of the main members so the entire institution is just DoA...

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Aug 28, 2023Liked by Noah Smith

Good piece. I found your take on Brazil’s interest in playing geopolitics very accurate. Brazilians couldn’t care less about great power rivalry.

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